The bar-hopping and bed-hopping of Sex & The City’s first season series feels awfully far away right now. Ironically, the opening episodes of the show’s spin-off, And Just Like That, only seem to make the distance between those carefree days of 1990s Manhattan and now – pandemic-era, post-Trump New York – even greater.
ou want style and salty observations about post-menopausal life? You got it, but you have to wade through a lot of schmaltz and nonsense before that.
First things first, it goes without saying that this review is soaked with spoilers, so stop reading now if you’d like to enjoy a gasp in front of the TV later.
Some of these spoilers are minor, and some of them are… well, Big.
The sands of time have shifted for our central squad Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon). No surprise there given that two decades have almost passed since Sex & The City’s small-screen finale, but our three girls somehow can’t seem to stop mentioning The Age Thing.
It all verges on the strangely contrived. On leaving her hair its natural grey, Miranda tells a disapproving Charlotte after she notes it ages her: “No, you think the grey ages YOU,” she counters. “You think you can’t be the age you are pretending to be.” In case you’re wondering who got all of Samantha’s spicy lines, it’s Miranda.
And so to the Samantha-sized elephant in the room, acknowledged and dispensed with within the first few minutes of the series. Samantha Jones, the most doggedly loyal Manhattanite of them all, now works in PR in London (“Sexy sirens in their 60s are still viable over there!” Miranda says).
It transpires that when Carrie stopped using Samantha as her book publicist some years back, her ride-or-die Samantha was less than pleased. “She fired me as a friend,” Carrie pines. “And I always thought the four of us would be friends forever.” Well, that’s the central tenet of the entire original series shot into the ether. Anyway.
As we catch up with the power three (plus their fourth wheel, Stanford Blatch), we find that Charlotte is still a prissy Park Avenue climber, Miranda very much the truth-teller, and Carrie still the Absolute Worst. Notable life changes are afoot. Charlotte’s daughter Rose is a dress-dodging tomboy; setting the stage, no doubt, for some manner of gender/sexuality-based plotline in future episodes. Miranda has quit her corporate law career to pursue a Master’s in human rights at Columbia, noting: “I couldn’t be part of the problem anymore.” She is also partial to a neat daytime bourbon and an 11am glass of Chablis. Well, I guess you would if you were dealing with a horny teenager and a husband who is significantly hearing impaired.
Video of the Day
In a most curious plot twist, Carrie is no longer writing about sex in a newspaper column, but is now cringing shyly about the subject in front of a podcast microphone (“XY & Me, about gender roles, sex roles and cinnamon rolls”). Asked about masturbation in a panel discussion, the original ‘sex anthropologist’ squeaks out: “I’d like to buy a vowel, please.”
In any case, Carrie will soon have more on her mind than stepping up with the professional sex chat. In their opening scene, we see Carrie and Big (Chris Noth) still very much together after all these years. Time has been especially kind to their marriage. The two flirtatiously prep dinner together while playing vintage vinyl and trading (what the writers surely believe are) sexy non-sequiturs. However, the domestic quietude is cut through with a shocking moment that amounts to the end of a televisual era. Big declines to attend the piano recital of Charlotte’s daughter Lily, deciding to spend the night instead with Allegra, his Spanish Peloton instructor (don’t worry, it’s just an exercise thing).
On his 1,000th spinning workout, Big suffers a major cardiac arrest. Carrie arrives home to their apartment to look into his eyes for one final, all-too-brief moment before he dies, slumped in a running shower. As it does for so many others in life, Carrie’s entire future shifts on a dime.
For perhaps a very appropriate reason, the salty playfulness and astute social observation that made Sex & The City such a resounding success is scant on the ground. Their brunch talk shoots off in the right direction – Miranda nearly steps in a used condom on her son’s bedroom floor – yet overall tone is much more considered, elegiac and slow. Though they are dealing with a different set of challenges, these women are no longer endearing and magnetic in their messy stumbling through life. There’s a strange elegance and stillness to them (think the pacing of the Mexican sequence in the Sex & The City movie, and you’re halfway there). I for one, miss that chaotic energy of old.
It’s been years since these actresses inhabited their iconic characters, but here it feels as though they have somehow forgotten how to do that. Why does it feel as though Parker, Nixon and Davis are cosplaying here, rather than bringing those characters to life with the elan that they did in the past?
And Just Like That missed a huge opportunity to do for post-menopausal women what it did for singlehood: make it look fun, aspirational and cool. As it happens, the series says relatively little so far about the realities of middle age, and none of what is being said is particularly good.
A less kind critic might observe that the writers of the show decided to let the opening episode coast on cliché, clunk and cringe in order to make that Big sucker-punch all the more impactful. Still, Carrie struggling with w**k-talk, Miranda falling over herself to be performatively woke and Charlotte doing her afternoon errands in high couture might be a lot to stomach.
Speaking of which: And Just Like That looks as reassuringly glossy and expensive as you might expect. The interiors throb with moneyed style, and the clothes are genuine ambrosia for the eyes. Still, I can’t help but wonder (sorry) what might have happened had the show’s makers redistributed more of that considerable budget towards the writers’ room. The writing’s the thing, as the old Carrie would probably have told you.